Xanth series by Piers Anthony
A couple of years ago I picked up a book called “A Spell for Chameleon”, which was the first part in a series of novels about the mythical land of Xanth, a book series by Piers Anthony. I’m not sure why I picked this book up cheap at a thrift store, possibly because someone had recommended it (probably on the Internet, too), but it sat on my bookshelf for close to two years. However, last summer, I decided to go ahead and read it. And I was hooked.
The Xanth series by Piers Anthony normally focuses on a different character in each book, all of whom live in the magical land of Xanth, which looks suspiciously like Florida in illustrations. It’s the only place on Earth where magic and magical creatures have developed. All inhabitants of Xanth have their own unique magical power, with those possessing the strongest power being chosen to be King or Queen of Xanth. Each book in the series is typically set up in the form of a quest that the main character has to undertaken, learning valuable lessons about themselves and life in the process.
I’m a fan of dark and high fantasy, yet The Spell of Chameleon, the first book in the Xanth series, was the most refreshing thing I had read since the Harry Potter series. These books are just fun, lighthearted, a relatively quick read despite each being around 400 pages with incredibly small font, and contain enough laugh out loud humor and memorable characters that you keep on coming back for the next book in the series. Plus, the series is just absurd enough to be funny yet still maintain cohesion; for example, if the characters are hungry, the find a bread tree, and pluck the loaves to eat. Need new shoes? Ladyslipper trees. One character has the magical ability to make the inanimate talk, which leads to hilarious exchanges between rocks and trees and walls and chairs, of which most are fairly dumb yet enjoy a good insult.
The list goes on and on…
One aspect of Piers Anthony’s writing that I really enjoy is his impressive grasp on words and word play; these books will trip you up if you pay attention. For example, in the land of Xanth, a nightmare is a dark horse that carries dreams to you as you sleep. Night + Mare. In the book I just finished, the main character is infected by an Eye Queue vine, giving him intelligence he doesn’t normally possess. Seriously, this series is chock full of puns, and incredibly bad ones at that (delightfully so!).
How about this list of bad puns?
Babbling Brook – a freshwater stream that can talk
BootRear – tastes like rootbear, but its got a “kick”
Firewater – Streams, pools, etc. of orange steaming water which is hot enough to be used for cooking.
Butternut Tree – The nuts it bears hold the best quality butter.
Hypnogoard – each has a peephole that traps any creature who peers in in the world inside, where bad dreams are created.
Tail-Lights – Fluffy hopping animals with glowing cottony tails.
Soda Water Springs – lime, strawberry, cream soda, celery, or orange flavored effervescent springs.
By this point I’ve read five books in the Xanth series, and I’ve enjoyed them all. The first was obviously A Spell for Chameleon. The plot summary from Wikipedia: In this adventure, Bink is exiled to Mundania because he has (inadvertently) broken Xanth law by not having a magical talent. He returns to Xanth with Chameleon, a woman whose intelligence and beauty vary inversely depending on the time of the month, and the evil magician Trent who was exiled 20 years earlier for attempting to usurp the throne of Xanth. Thoroughly enjoyed and was delighted by this book, and whatever point Piers Anthony was trying to make about how the more attractive the woman, the less intelligent she is (and vice versa), made this a book to ponder on a deeper level.
(Disclaimer – hot women can be smart. Physical attractiveness is not an indicator of intelligence or lack thereof. But, typically, the smarter the person, the less time they spend on their looks.)(Insert photo of author.)
The second book, The Source of Magic, follows Bink and his companions as they search out the source of magic. Where the first book set up the world, this book more so set up recurring characters. From wikipedia: This novel begins one year after the events of A Spell for Chameleon, and describes the adventures of Bink after he has settled down with his pregnant wife, Chameleon. King Trent had appointed Bink the Official Researcher of Xanth at the end of the previous book, and given him the task to discover Xanth’s source of magic. After many hazards, Bink and his companions succeed but Bink makes a moral choice that ends up destroying the magic of Xanth.
The third book in the Xanth “trilogy”, of which there are now 36 books, is Castle Roogna, which follows the son of Bink, Dor, as he travels back in time to find the Zombie Master. From Wikipedia: Dor, son of Bink, is a 12 year old magician and next in line to inherit the throne of Xanth. To teach him the skills he will need to rule the kingdom, King Trent sends him through the tapestry on a mission 800 years into Xanth’s past to find the ancient and mysterious Zombie Master. Dor travels to the past via the magic tapestry of Castle Roogna and inhabits the body of an invading mundane barbarian. While in the past Dor is accompanied by a (not normally) giant spider named Jumper, who had been drawn into the tapestry with him, and meets his current governess Millie the ghost, a short time before her unfortunate demise. Dor must use his magic and every other resource he possesses to help beat back an invading wave of mundanes and find a way to restore Millie’s zombie lover to life back in the present.
The fourth book in the Xanth series is Centaur Aisle, which is notable because it’s the first book where an extensive amount of time is spent outside of Xanth in the “Mundania” world where humans don’t have access to magic. From Wikipedia: King Trent has left Xanth on a mission of trade to Mundania and has left Dor as temporary king. When Trent fails to return after some time, Dor must find a way to rescue Trent. He is informed that the means to rescue Trent lies to the south on Centaur Isle, the home of a tribe of centaurs.
A brief side comment on Centaur Aisle. Normally I don’t learn any life lessons or morality from novels, since from an early age I just accepted that all truth and life came from God and the Bible. That’s not to say I haven’t learned anything from other sources, but I’ve never just blindly accepted everything I was exposed to as truth, a danger that most preachers seem to think all young people will fall into. Whatever. However, in the past year, I’ve learned an awful lot about myself, the world, other people, and more importantly, a little concept called grace. Grace was made real to me in a way I’ve never experienced before. I find it hard to put my experience and thoughts into words, but I learned more about what grace is, yet know I still have a lot to go. Specifically as it relates to Centaur Aisle, this book taught me that looks aren’t everything and can be deceiving, and that a true man will stand up to beauty, that dictator of the heart, and learn to love and cherish that which is underneath it. Beauty is a wonderful thing, and just because someone is beautiful and can act stupid at times…that doesn’t mean they truly are stupid, and grace compels you to love them anyway.
Plus, the book taught me that women act stupid intentionally, which is very valuable lesson.
The fifth book in the Xanth series, which I just finished last night, was Ogre, Ogre. From Wikipedia: Smash the half-ogre (offspring of Crunch the ogre and a human Curse Fiend) goes to see the Good Magician Humfrey to get his question answered, although he doesn’t know what his question is. The magician’s answer: Travel to the Ancestral Ogres to find what you seek. His payment is to guard Tandy, a half-nymph, for one year. They travel about Xanth, and Smash acquires other young women who travel with him and whom he protects. Along the way, he is infected with the Eye Queue vine, which makes him intelligent (although actually invoking his human half) making him distressed as ogres are not supposed to be smart in any way. As he finds a antidote to his intelligence, he undergoes several adventures; saving Tandy from the dream realm in the gourd and smashing (true to his name) the Gap Dragon. Soon he finds matchs and finds solutions to all of the women, who leave one by one.
Ogre, Ogre has probably been my least favorite Xanth novel so far, but was still highly enjoyable. Much more of this book is spent on description, as Orgre talk would get pretty old pretty fast, as it’s all in rhyming couplets (seriously). Smash spends a good portion of the book traveling and hunting down the Dark Stallion (Dark Stal-Lion), the leader of the Nightmares, and the dreamscapes he travels through are incredibly varied and descriptive. I much prefer the witty banter of a group of people to a lone ogre journeying to save the souls of his companions; gripping story, but by this point I’ve realized that actions in Xanth series don’t carry a whole lot of weight, as everything works out great in the end. Xanth is a young adult’s series, after all.
So I’ve been really enjoying the Xanth series. The next one on the list is Night Mare, which I’m guessing will be more dreams related. Before that book, though, I’m reading through Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile, the long awaited sequel of sorts to Ender’s Game. Should be good. But from now on, as long as the series lasts, after every book I read, I’m going to follow it up with a Xanth novel, as they are precisely the breathe of life and fresh air I need between tomes.